Skip to main content

As Sandy descends, tips from Katrina survivors

By Kathleen Koch, Special to CNN
October 29, 2012 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Atlantic City, New Jersey, resident Kim Johnson inspects the area around her apartment building, which flooded on Tuesday, October 30. Large sections of an old boardwalk also were destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. Nearly 11,000 people spent Monday night in 258 Red Cross-operated shelters across 16 states because of Sandy, the American Red Cross tells CNN.<strong> </strong><strong><a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/30/us/gallery/ny-sandy/index.html'>View photos of New York recovering from impact</a></strong><strong>.</strong> Atlantic City, New Jersey, resident Kim Johnson inspects the area around her apartment building, which flooded on Tuesday, October 30. Large sections of an old boardwalk also were destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. Nearly 11,000 people spent Monday night in 258 Red Cross-operated shelters across 16 states because of Sandy, the American Red Cross tells CNN. View photos of New York recovering from impact.
HIDE CAPTION
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
Sandy's destructive path
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kathleen Koch: Katrina survivors share suggestions for coping with Hurricane Sandy
  • Tips include bringing outdoor solar lights inside at night if power goes out, she says
  • Also, have tire repair kits for nail debris; text, don't call, to save battery charge, she says
  • Koch: Take chance to bond with neighbors; times of disaster reveal humanity, strength

Editor's note: Kathleen Koch is author of the best-selling book "Rising from Katrina," which explores how citizens recover from disasters. She was a CNN correspondent for 18 years.

(CNN) -- Hurricane veterans know when a bad one's coming. It's like those who feel the barometric pressure drop of approaching storm systems in their bones. I got the vibe midweek.

So I asked my friends on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, hardy survivors of Hurricane Katrina, what advice they would share with those in Hurricane Sandy's path. But I didn't want the usual flashlight, batteries, water, generator, gasoline tips. Tell them something they don't know, I asked, something that helped get you through.

Kathleen Koch
Kathleen Koch

Here's what they said:

• Outdoor solar lights can be brought in at night to light the indoors.

• When you make a video of your home for insurance purposes beforehand, open drawers and closets so the contents are visible.

• Have a tire plug repair kit and pliers to pull out nails or screws, since debris in the roadway causes flats and leaks that are tough to repair when everything is closed.

• Extend your cell phone battery's life by texting instead of calling and turning off Internet/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/GPS connections.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



• Bank safes and safe deposit boxes are not waterproof. During flooding, items left in them may be damaged and not accessible for weeks.

• Have thick tarps and roofing tacks in case you lose shingles from the wind.

What I didn't expect was the advice of a different nature that many added after their practical tips:

• Faith and the knowledge that no matter what, your life and the life of your family is more important than any material possession you may have.

• Keep a positive attitude and help your neighbor!

• Remember to have patience with your family, friends and neighbors. ... Work together and share your resources.

• Talk to each other. Share old stories. Some of the best relationships were made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as neighbors discovered new friends next door and grew closer helping one another through a trying time.

Northeast braces for Hurricane Sandy
Bloomberg announces evacuation
MD governor.: Stay home, hunker down

• Read a book.

Keep a hurricane preparation checklist

These are heartfelt suggestions from those who know what it's like to lose everything all at once. Disaster has a way of focusing the mind and leveling the playing field. Doctors and bankers stood next to mechanics and janitors in food lines in my Gulf Coast hometown of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

Such brutal shocks to the system are inevitable. No one can stop them, though human beings prefer to imagine we are omnipotent. We have access to virtually anything with the click of a mouse or a tap on our smartphones. We can Skype with someone on the other side of the world. We can land a rover on Mars and find proof of ancient rivers. We can do anything -- except control Mother Nature.

We don't like that, because it forces us to accept that we are vulnerable. Nations, states, cities and individuals wisely invest time and money on prevention efforts, but we can't really predict when, where and how the effects of nature at its worst will be felt.

What we can control is our reaction. And researchers report that contrary to popular myth, during disasters most people don't adopt an "every man for himself" attitude. Most react with responsibility and concern for their neighbors. I have seen it myself, over decades covering blizzards, floods, hurricanes and more.

Nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina, I was present at a remarkable discussion between the mayor of Bay St. Louis and his wife. Most of the town's homes and businesses were heavily damaged or destroyed in 2005 when the monster storm's 30-foot surge, sustained 125 mph winds and hopscotching tornadoes roared through. But the town and its people recovered.

"It was amazing. It really was," said Eddie Favre of the spirit of kindness, generosity and selflessness that prevailed in the months after the hurricane. "It would be nice to reclaim some of that patience and understanding. I wish we could go back to it."

"I feel bad saying it, but I really miss it," agreed his wife Jan. "We were all so close."

Times of disaster reveal not just our human fragility, but our strengths. It is at times like this that we learn what we are made of. People come together, share what they have and accept help from others. Suddenly differences that once seemed insurmountable turn out to be quite insignificant. The worst of times can bring out the best.

Hurricane safety: When the lights go out

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kathleen Koch.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT